The Russian Town of Barentsburg Norway

NorwayAlthough the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard is administered by the Norwegian government, an international treaty declared that any other country has absolute equality in exploiting the area’s mineral resources.  Russia has taken this opportunity and has established a settlement in the 1930s. 

Nowadays, Barentsburg is the second largest town in Svalbard with about 400 inhabitants who are almost entirely Russian and Ukrainians, most are working for the Russian-owned Arktikugol.  Russia is currently the only country to maintain a presence in Barentsburg, with its consulate being the northernmost diplomatic mission of any kind in the world.

Barentsburg is named after the Dutch explorer Willem Barentz, who created a recorded discovery of Svalbard in 1596.  During the Cold War, Barentsburg was a hotbed of activity as the Russians tried to expand their zone of control over the islands.  With the abandonment of another Russian settlement (Pyramiden) in 1998, Barentsburg has been the only Russian settlement still operating over Svalbard and it is evident with Cyrillic script all over the signage and murals of muscled workers in heroic poses, reminiscent of Soviet-style propaganda.

With the major coal mine being unoperational due to a suspected mine fire, the population of this town has been steadily decreasing in recent years.  Many buildings have become uninhabited and left to decay.  Despite all odds, several villagers continue to mine for coal and still produce up to 350,000 tons every year, although selling it on the open market has been a constant problem.

However, tourism is slowly being introduced in the town.  It takes about two hours for a day-tripping traveler from Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen to see all the sights of Barentsburg.  You can poke your nose into the local Orthodox chapel, which was erected in 1996 to commemorate a tragic plane crash, as well as taking a picture to one of two northernmost statue of Lenin (the other one being in Pyramiden).  Visitors can also enter the Pomor Museum, which features stuffed polar bears, a dinosaur footprint, and several rock displays.

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